The Middlebury Independent: Koch or woke?

By ELLIS GLICKMAN

SARAH FAGAN

Last weekend was our spring club fair. There, armed with Reese’s and Kit-Kats, Quinn Boyle ’21 and I hawked our booth alongside dozens of students converged in Wilson Hall (if they were lucky) and the forgotten nooks of downstairs Crossroads (if they weren’t).

I’m editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Independent; Quinn’s executive editor and co-founder. I won’t play coy: I’m aware of the sentiment against us and should have known our assigned booth besides The Campus and Disorient Midd would cause tension. But it escalated when someone from Disorient shoved a note that said  “KOCH FUNDED” at someone joining our email list. Another stood beside us with “go/disorient” taped over her mouth, their site which lists The Independent as a current threat to justice at Middlebury. At one point, I glanced up to see a member of Disorient taking a photo of me. When I turned around, two others quickly hid the “KOCH FUNDED” sign they had held above my head. 

I didn’t say anything — I’m far too socially awkward for that — but here is my response … as well as a perfect example of why The Independent exists in the first place. 

The Middlebury Independent was founded after the controversies of the chemistry test question and Legutko incidents last spring and, specifically, the barrage of opinion pieces that flooded The Campus. No one’s ever doubted MiddKids’ passion, and we recognized a demand for a specifically written form of dialogue around current events, activism and politics: not everyone has the lungs for debate club.

Those same incidents demonstrated that when controversy arises, the reliability of on-campus funding wanes. The SGA publicly considered defunding The Local Noodle, and we didn’t want our paper so susceptible to the whims of funders. We chose the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which, though known for conservative biases, promised in our contract that it “will exercise no control or influence over the editorial comments of [The Independent], nor review, prior to publication, any of the contents.” It seemed settled.

Oh boy, it wasn’t. 

I truly couldn’t have anticipated the way things transpired. Disorient Midd, among others, trampled our message and denounced The Independent as “a space for conservative white men on campus to complain about their voicelessness.” All three of us on the editorial board are liberal Democrats, and two are women. All three support climate activism, racial equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, etc: to think we’d compromise these creeds because the ISI told us to is an insult to our integrity and intelligence. 

We knew using the ISI would cause animosity, and we knew the shaming culture that exists on campus. What we didn’t anticipate was such an organized assault of disinformation. Our content is non-ideological: a pro-life Democrat’s views on abortion, Middlebury’s illiberalism and an Asian student’s experience with racism have been just some topics writers have explored in their pieces. But somehow the dominant narrative is that oil barons are cutting us checks.

For the record, ISI hasn’t accepted Koch money since 2004, per a SourceWatch report. And yet, last week, The Campus published an op-ed whose first line read, “Did you know an on-campus organization accepts money from fossil fuel billionaires?”; Disorient identifies us as “a student-run, Koch-funded ‘newspaper’ [that] appears on campus to give a voice to the apparently voiceless straight males at Middlebury.”; and this fall, a student posted on the meme page our advertisement for, “Race or Class? An Affirmative Action Debate” saying, “Drop this bullshit that people of color are less deserving of access to higher education than white people” (the post has since been removed). The central question of that debate was how to better aid disadvantaged minority students. The activists who have targeted us distort information to bully and shame, all while protesting what they see as the platforming of unsubstantiated, divisive ideas and speakers. It is a recurring theme at Middlebury. 

Disorient Midd’s treatment of me at the club fair only occurred once Quinn stepped away. When I left her alone, the situation repeated itself. Members of Disorient held signs behind her while she pitched and took multiple photos that they then shared. She confronted them, listing the sources of funding for The Independent, as well as the scrutinized Open Campus Initiative and Alexander Hamilton Forum. None use Koch money. She asked if anyone from the go/disorient page would meet to discuss their perspectives and was told they would only communicate via email. We still don’t know who runs Disorient. I’m just going to say it: this is bullying. They attempted to shame and silence us … and it worked. Quinn packed our booth and left before the fair ended. I would have, too.

We know their issue with us isn’t actually about “dark money” infiltrating Middlebury. It’s about controlling information and deciding what can be shared. It’s about wanting the world to be a certain way and ignoring, rather than confronting, the fear that it’s not. I’m sick of the campaigns, fact-less proliferations and, most of all, blind acceptance that students you eat with and live with, study with and sleep with, are really just Koch-funded propaganda machines furthering climate denial and racial oppression. Give us some credit: we’re harder to buy than that. 

Ellis Glickman is a member of the class of 2022 and is The Middlebury Indepdendent’s editor in chief.

Quinn Boyle ’21 contributed to this piece.